Known for his Latin- Jazz music and his smooth piano skills, Eddie Palmieri received today the National Endowment for the Arts 2013 Jazz Masters award.
New-York-born Palmieri is now a band leader and pianist, but he comes with three decades of jazz music trajectory. He has recorded more than 35 records, won 9 Grammy awards and has performed with stars such as Yomo Toro and Barry Rogers.
NBCLatino sat down with Palmieri in December to talk about his favorite collaborations, his 75th birthday, and his musical memories. Here is what he had to say:
NBC Latino: This is a landmark birthday for you and I know you’ve received birthday wishes the world over. Looking back, which of your achievements over the years have meant the most to you?
Eddie: I would have to say winning my first Grammy in 1975. It took many years for the academy to create that category, and they only gave out one Grammy for all the Latin performers in the world and I won it. I won it in 1975 and in 1976 – that’s what I’m most proud of.
NBC Latino: Tomorrow you’ll be performing at a concert in your honor with a full orchestra. What’s the significance of that for you?
Eddie: The reason it’s so important is because I don’t have a chance to have to perform with this kind of orchestra any more. There’s no other orchestra that can go one on one with what I’ve put together, in my opinion. Everyone has their own opinions but at my age I have mine. And I can say it! My heart and my soul are elated because there’s nothing more exciting for me than to getting people to dance. That’s a beautiful exchange: between the dancer and the orchestra, and the orchestra to the dancer.
NBC Latino: You’ve listed some great musicians, and I know you’ve had a lot of wonderful collaborations over the years. Which collaboration has been your favorite?
Eddie: In my first band, it would have to be Mr. Barry Rogers, who sadly passed away. And after that, now it’s Mr. Brian Lynch. We collaborated together on one of his albums and he’s been with us for so many years that I can’t even keep track of how long it’s been.
NBC Latino: So what’s next for you?
Eddie: Right now, I’d like to study the piano even harder. Last Saturday night, we played a concert with four pianists – I thought I would take care of them but here comes the 85-year-old Barry Harris who gave us a piano clinic. He destroyed all of us, and I thought, ‘I better get back on the piano!’ That’s the deal: to practice and see where I might go next. I might do a solo piano album and then either a Latin album with the vocals or a Latin jazz album.
NBC Latino: What’s something surprising about you at 75 that your fans might not know?
Eddie: What they think they know is that I’m turning 75. What they don’t know is that I’m going to be 25, because I learned after 50 you start counting at 1 again.
NBC Latino: What advice do you have for young musicians who would be lucky to have half as your success?
Eddie: The word is really preparation. The more you prepare yourself, the more you are able to meet other great musicians and students. From there you form your own bands, you work with different people. You start cultivating your reputation with whichever instrument you might practice, and then eventually you get your own signature as a player. The more you prepare yourself, the more equipped you are to start writing, orchestrating, and creating compositions. If you have it in your soul, your heart will drive you to reach that position in the music business that you are looking for.
Other recipients of this prestigious award were blues-influenced singer and pianist Mose Allison, Jazz alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, and nightclub owner Lorraine Gordon for their lifetime achievements and contributions to the development and performance of jazz music.
The 31-year-old award has become the highest honor given to jazz musicians in the nation.
The recipients will be honored on January 14, 2013 at the Jazz at Lincoln Center.